Saturday, November 21, 2009

A Divine Romance

While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body."

Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father's kingdom."

Matthew 26:26-30

It was Passover, and like good Jews, Jesus and his disciples were celebrating this holy day and festival. See, every year, Jews commemorate how God saved them from slavery in Egypt. If you remember the story, Moses came to the Pharaoh with a message from God and said, “Let my people go.” The Pharaoh said no, and there were nine plagues. You know how people often ask, if you could live at any time in history, which era would you pick. Well I would not pick this era, because I definitely would not want to be around during the plagues of lice, or flies, or locusts, or boils! No thank you!

And then the tenth plague. The Jews put blood from a lamb on their doorposts, so that the Lord would pass over them, while the firstborn sons of all the Egyptians died that night. And following this plague, the Israelites were able to escape their captivity, so there is a festival every year to celebrate this. And it was that time of year.

So the disciples are eating this great feast, and Jesus had just told the disciples that one of them would betray him. And then he did something odd. He lifted up the cup, and offered it to his disciples to drink. And they looked at him like he was crazy. Seriously, picture their confused faces. Excuse me, Jesus, have you lost your mind? Do you know what your saying? Now here in twenty-first century America, we aren’t confused, because we know what to expect in the story. We know that Jesus’ blood will be shed for the salvation of mankind. But these Jewish guys were seriously confused, because when Jesus lifted up that cup, they heard him say, “Will you marry me?”

Now do you get their confused and possibly distraught faces thinking, “Uh, Jesus, you’re not exactly my type…”

I did a little bit of research on Jewish marriage traditions. Here’s how it would go:

The process of betrothal would start out with the prospective groom and his father going to meet with the prospective bride’s father. They would sit down and figure out the marriage contract, including the dowry and the terms of marriage. I once heard it explained this way, “When a Hebrew man decided to take for Himself a Hebrew woman, he’d go to his father and say, “Her, Dad. I want to make little rabbis with her.”
So then the dad would go to her dad and they’d talk camels, or sheep,
or whatever the payment was going to be.”

Then when the terms of the marriage were agreed upon, the groom could formally “propose” to his bride.

He would present her with a ketubah, a beautifully decorated formal document that specified the marriage terms and stated his intent to consecrate himself to his bride-to-be. The groom then would offer her a gift of great value, which was symbolic of his esteem for her and his willingness to sacrifice on her behalf. Often as you might be able to guess, this gift was a gold ring because the circle symbolized eternity.

Then the groom made a ritual statement, formally consecrating himself to his bride.

Finally, the groom poured a cup of wine for the prospective bride. Jewish law stated that a woman could not be forced to marry a man that she didn’t want to marry, so she got to choose whether or not to accept the groom’s proposal. If she drank the cup he offered, they were betrothed.

The groom would formally accept his bride with another ritual statement, often “Thou art set apart for me according to the law of Moses and Israel.” Interestingly, the same word for “set apart” was also used to describe a dedicated temple; the bride was considered a temple now set apart for her husband.

Now do you get what is going on here in Matthew 26? Jesus holds out the cup, saying “Take this and drink,” and in their Jewish tradition, this was the equivalent of getting down on one knee, and popping the question. And the disciples now had the choice to accept or reject this proposal. So they passed around the cup, and as they took a drink, they were saying, “I will marry you and be set apart for you.”

The next step in Jewish betrothal tradition is really interesting. The bride returned home, and from that point on, she was known as “the one who was bought with a price.” That was her name as she began preparing for the wedding. And she would not know exactly when the time would come for the wedding.

As for the groom, his main responsibility during the betrothal was to build a mansion. Actually, the Hebrew word for mansion really means apartment, and in reality was an addition onto his parent’s house. Their first house would be with the in-laws. And this process took a while, six months to a year. He didn’t know exactly when it would be finished, because here’s the catch, the only one who could decide if the house was finished was the father. So the son would go to his father, “So what do you think, Dad? Is it done yet?” “Not yet son.”

If that’s not agonizing enough, the tradition was that during this period of betrothal, the bride and groom were not allowed to talk with one another! Can you imagine? Well, actually, they had one outlet for communication—the best man. He’d be the messenger for them during this time apart.

Let’s go back to Matthew 26. Jesus proposes. Then naturally, he tells them that they are going to have to be apart. Jesus has to go build a house for them to live in. In John 14:1-3, Jesus tells his disciples, "Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me. In my Father's house are many rooms; if it were not so, I would have told you. I am going there to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.” The groom has to leave, but he wants his bride to know that the best man is coming. Later in John 14, he tells his disciples about the Counselor who is coming. The Holy Spirit will be with them sending messages so they can communicate during this time apart.

When the home was finally approved of, the groom could gather up the bridal party, and they would all march into the bride’s town. It was even customary for the groom to arrive suddenly and late at night. As the probable time of the wedding approached, the bride and her sisters, cousins, and friends would wait together each evening in anticipation of the groom’s arrival. When he got to her house, the groom and his friends would carry the bride through the streets to her new home in a jubilant procession accompanied by music, torches, and well-wishers. At the wedding house, they would meet under the wedding canopy, which would symbolize God’s presence blessing the union, and they would complete the marriage.

If you still have your Bible opened, flip back to Matthew 25, the parable of the ten virgins. This parable gives us a look at this tradition.

"At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them. The wise, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps. The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

"At midnight the cry rang out: 'Here's the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!'

"Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps. The foolish ones said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.'"

'No,' they replied, 'there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.'

"But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived.

The virgins who were ready went in with him to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

"Later the others also came. 'Sir! Sir!' they said. 'Open the door for us!'

"But he replied, 'I tell you the truth, I don't know you.'

"Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour the bridegroom will come.

See, it was a surprise when the groom arrived, and he would announce his presence with a sound of a trumpet, and the bride would have to be ready to go and marry him.

Does this sound like what we are expecting for the Second Coming of Christ? In Revelation, the last part of the wedding is completed. Revelation 19:7 says, “Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready.”

But throughout the Bible, the metaphor of marriage is used when talking about God and his people.

Let me give you a quick run-down of one of my favorite stories in the Bible. This is the story of Hosea, but prepare yourself, because it is probably a way you’ve never heard it…

-Hosea!

-Yeah, God?

-Hosea, it’s time.

-It’s time? Oh, yeah, God! I know what that means! Just tell me one thing. Is she hot and holy? That’s all I want in my wife—hot and holy!

-Well, Hosea, I don’t really know how to tell you this, well, yes I do because I’m God, but she’s not exactly what you’ve been expecting.

-Excuse me? Oh, ok, I see what you’re getting at, she’s even hotter and holier than I was expecting!

-Actually, she’s a harlot.

-Har-la-what?

-Harlot, prostitute, lady of the night…

-Yeah I know what it means, I said har-la-what?

-She’s going to cheat on you with other lovers

-She’s gonna do what?

-And she’s going to have kids with other lovers

-She’s gonna do what?

-And you’re going to take her back, and you’re going to love her

-I’m gonna do what?

-You’re going to love her, because that is how I love my people.

-What’s her name?

-Gomer

-Aw, man!

So that’s pretty much a summary of what happened in Hosea. Hosea was God’s prophet, a really righteous man, and God asked him to marry a prostitute. And did you catch why God wanted him to marry her? Because that is the way God loves his people.

Hosea 3 says, “Then God ordered me, "Start all over: Love your wife again, your wife who's in bed with her latest boyfriend, your cheating wife. Love her the way I, God, love the Israelite people, even as they flirt and party with every god that takes their fancy." I did it. I paid good money to get her back. It cost me the price of a slave. Then I told her, "From now on you're living with me. No more sleeping around. You're living with me and I'm living with you."

The Israelites were God’s chosen people, and they had turned away from him. Yet he still loved them, even though they were his adulterous wife. That blows my mind to think of.

And the thing I most often forget about God is that God feels. In Ezekiel 6:9 God says “I have been grieved by their adulterous hearts, which have turned away from me, and by their eyes, which have lusted after their idols.” The English Standard Version says it even more strongly; God says, “I have been broken over their whoring heart that has departed from me and over their eyes that go whoring after their idols.” God is broken and grieved over his people who are unfaithful to him, the same way Hosea grieved about his wife who was unfaithful to him. The Creator God of the universe can be broken over us, and our unfaithfulness, because Gomer’s dark, sinful, unfaithful blood runs through us, too.

When we start looking at it that way, there are some pretty serious implications for our faith and our relationship with God. If I can tell you the truth, I got so excited while I was researching for this sermon, about how cool the gospel is, the way all of this ties in. And looking at the gospel through the lens of marriage has changed everything for me.

So here are the things I want to say. We here in this room, are the bride of Christ. 2 Corinthians 11:2 says, “I am jealous for you with a godly jealousy. I promised you to one husband, to Christ, so that I might present you as a pure virgin to him.” Actually, over and over again in Paul’s letters, he talks about Jesus as the groom, and the church the bride.

For example in Ephesians. Honestly, I hated Ephesians 5 until I really understood it. In verse 22, Paul says, “Wives, submit to your husbands.” I don’t know, that has just always bugged me a little. But the command for husbands is actually a lot stronger. He says, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” Husbands have to love their wives and die for them the same way Christ loves his wife, the church, and died for her. We are Christ’s wife. Now I know that is weird for you gentleman, but as part of the church, you are the bride of Christ!

So how does this change our relationship? For me, it has been the way that I view sin. The official definition of sin, the Wesleyan definition that we hear so often is that sin is “a willful transgression of a known law of God.” But that makes it sound very impersonal. Donald Miller once said, “It’s a far different thing to break a rule, than it is to cheat on a lover.” That is how my concept of sin has changed; instead of just breaking a rule in some ancient book, I am cheating on my husband. And that changes everything! Because I want to be a wife who is faithful to my husband. I don’t want God to grieve when I cheat on him by going after other lovers, other things in my life that won’t satisfy.

This view of my relationship with God also adds so much intimacy. Suddenly, God is not a God who is far off, removed from my life. We are intimately connected by the covenant of marriage! If God can be broken when I sin and am unfaithful, that is huge! But it also means that he can experience joy in our commitment and in our relationship.

Now I have never been married. I don’t know what it is like, but a lot of people describe their wedding day as the happiest day of their life. And I’d imagine that being in love is pretty great, even joyful. And I also have heard enough to believe that marriage takes work. So shouldn’t we apply all of those ideas to our relationship, our marriage, with God?

God is overjoyed on our wedding day. I know that I still have a lot of romantic notions about what marriage will be like, but if you don’t have warm and fuzzy feelings about marriage, let me say right now, that in our marriage to God, divorce is not an option. It is not an option because he says “I will never leave you. I love you and I will always take you back.” This husband is a hundred times better than Hosea or any other man on this planet. God is overjoyed about our commitment to him.

And we can have an intimate relationship with him. He loves us as we are. We don’t have to work to get better for him, because Christ was already better for us. This frees us to come to him just as we are, even when we mess up and are unfaithful.

I kind of love that betrothed Jewish women were called, “the one who was bought with a price.” Sure, to have that as my name would be long and tedious. But I know that I have been bought with a price. My dowry with Jesus Christ cost him his very life. That is a very high price to pay. And that changes everything in my life.

I want to leave you with another quote from Donald Miller that kind of encapsulates what I want you to take away from this morning he said:

But if the gospel of Jesus is relational; that is, if our brokenness will be fixed, not by our understanding of theology, but by God telling us who we are, then this would require a kind of intimacy of which only heaven knows. Imagine, a Being with a mind as great as God’s, with feet like trees and a voice like rushing wind, telling you that you are His cherished creation. It’s kind of exciting if you think about it. Earthly love…is temporal and slight so that it has to be given again and again in order for us to feel any sense of security; but God’s love, God’s voice and presence, would instill our souls with such affirmation we would need nothing more and would cause us to love other people so much we would be willing to die for them.

Now I know this sermon isn’t really about Thanksgiving, but we are going to eat a big meal this week. And this morning, we are going to partake in the Lord’s Supper before we go have our Thanksgiving dinner together. This morning, I invite all of you to think about your relationship with Christ as a marriage. The same way Jesus asked his disciples to take the cup and drink, he is asking us to take and drink, and as we do, to say “I do” to his marriage proposal. And that changes everything.


video

God at Work in Peru


“[Viracocha] is ancient, remote, supreme, and uncreated. Nor does he need the gross satisfaction of a consort. He manifests himself as a trinity when he wishes…otherwise only heavenly warriors and archangels surround his loneliness. He created all people by his ‘word,’ as well as all huacas (spirits). He is man’s Fortunus, ordaining his years and nourishing him. He is indeed the very principle of life, for he warms the folk through his created son, Punchao. He is the bringer of peace and an orderer. He is in his own being blessed, and has pity on men’s wretchedness. He alone judges them and absolves them and enables them to combat their evil tendencies.” This is the summary of the beliefs held by ancient Incas of Peru concerning the one creator God (Richardson 34). Peruvians articulated these beliefs long before any missionary stepped foot in South America, indicating God’s work in a people, already preparing them to receive the gospel. This is just one example of how God has moved in the country of Peru. God has been working in this country in many ways, and many strategies have been used to fulfill the Great Commission, from the Spanish conquerors to the earliest missionaries with the Church of the Nazarene to new strategies being used to expand the Kingdom of God in Peru.

It is most helpful to look first at the status of the church and missions in Peru in the modern day. The religious composition of Peru according to the 2007 census is 81.3% Roman Catholic, 12.5% Evangelical, 3.3% other, and 2.9% unspecified or none (CIA World Factbook). There is clearly a large Christian influence in this country. However, according to Joshua Project research, 4.8% of the population is unreached, five different people groups.

The earliest examples of mission work in Peru perhaps come in the form of Spanish conquerors. During the Spanish conquest and settlement of the Americas, “the crown saw the conversion of the indigenous peoples as a way of justifying their occupation of the newly conquered lands…Thus, the Spanish inextricably linked territorial conquest with converting those they considered ‘heathens’ to Christianity” (Schwaller). While the main strategy implemented by the Spanish mission groups—namely Dominicans, Mercedarians, Franciscans, Augustinians, and Jesuits— was to convert by simply teaching the basics of Christianity, they soon learned that conversion is a process, often taking generations rather than months or years. They therefore replaced the former strategy with one that proceeded at a slow, methodical pace, while trying to extirpate all vestiges of native religions in order to avoid syncretism. Although the effects of this early missionary movement in Latin America can be observed in religious terms, especially evident in the prevalence of Roman Catholicism there today, the effects must also be observed in social and economic terms; the church provided means for hospitals and capital on credit (Schwaller).

When other missionary movements began to occur, many other denominations entered Peru, including the Church of the Nazarene in 1917. Roger Winans and his family opened the work of the Church of the Nazarene. This was not something that was ever planned or expected, however. General Superintendent H.F. Reynolds reportedly responded to Winans’ call to go to Peru by telling him that the Church of the Nazarene would probably never so further south than Guatemala, but, “Brother Winans, we cannot send you to South America; but if God has called you, you will go or backslide” (Morgan 13).

The Nazarene mission work in Peru began by holding church services in the Winans’ home and having English classes. Roger Winans visited small villages and did some open-air preaching. However, since there may have been a question of legality concerning this practice, he sold Bibles to the people in the villages. Esther Carson, another Nazarene missionary, started a Sunday school in the village of Falco Grande as an outreach program. The early missionaries held meetings that were used to share the gospel with the people, and Roger Winans pastored a church and was district superintendent. He also did a lot of travelling, mostly by horseback, to many villages to extend the work. However, this work was not without great sacrifice; Roger Winans lost his wife, Mary, and baby son, and his other two sons were sent to the United States to attend school (Winans). Missionary Mary Miller said of the Winans, “If it hadn’t been for the commitment of pioneering missionaries Roger and Mary Winans, there might never have been a work in Peru at all. These early trailblazers overcame countless obstacles to tell the story of Jesus to its lost inhabitants. Every missionary who followed them has been grateful for their sacrifices” (quoted in Morgan 15).

Roger Winans and Esther Carson soon united to share the burden of reaching the lost in Peru; they got married, and explored the various areas in Peru, familiarizing themselves with the land and the people. Together, they moved to Aguarunaland to live among the people Roger had long dreamt of ministering to. Esther began the work of putting the Aguaruna language into written form so that Scripture could be translated into their language. Shortly after moving to Aguarunaland, Esther died following giving birth to their second child together. Although dismayed, he continued ministering, and later married missionary Mabel Park. After years of evangelizing, in 1948 they retired (Morgan 20).

One of the most important aspects of the Nazarene work in Peru is the Nazarene Bible Seminary in Chiclayo, founded in 1921. The seminary trains pastors, but the students have been responsible for much of the church’s growth in surrounding areas by implementing outreach programs (Morgan 33). The future leaders here were encouraged to go into the villages on Wednesdays and Sundays and put what they had learned into practice by holding services. These students became strong leaders, even filling positions formerly held by missionaries. “Through the efforts of these national leaders, the Peruvian church has become one of the fastest growing groups within the Nazarene denomination” (Morgan 45).

In spite of this, however, the case of Peru is an interesting one because the growth is concentrated in only one portion of the country. Field Strategy Coordinator and district superintendent in the Church of the Nazarene Segundo Rimarachin remarked on this issue saying, “In 1914 the first missionaries came to the north part of the country. The focus of the mission work was always in the north part of the country but never implemented the mission work in the south” (Pottenger, Peru). The church has prospered in the north with more than 50,000 Nazarenes dispersed in over 800 churches, while the south has about 300 Nazarenes in a handful of churches. This is not just a denominational issue though; Brian Tibbs, Global Director of Extreme Nazarene Ministries, said, "When we were going around visiting the cities, we found a lack of other denominations. It's not just that there's no Nazarene churches" (Pottenger, Extreme).

To combat this problem, a new strategy is being implemented, using young volunteer missionaries from the United States and Peru to pair up and plant churches in communities across the south of Peru. This strategy, called 40/40 because it is pairing forty Americans with forty Peruvians, begun by Extreme Nazarene Ministries, seeks to plant 120 Nazarene churches by 2012. “The 40/40 partners will go into the communities, knocking on doors and asking to share their testimonies, building relationships, inviting people to accept Christ and discipling new believers through Bible studies hosted at the cluster houses. Eventually, the Bible studies will grow into church plants” (Pottenger, Extreme). Rimarachin also said, "Peru is going through a period of acceptance and very receptive to the Gospel, so we want to take advantage of that to advance the kingdom of God" (Pottenger, Extreme). Besides door-to-door ministry, the missionaries involved in this project will also be working with other societal needs, including prostitution, alcoholism, and poverty. The main goal is to bring the light of Christ to a dark and hurting people desperate for hope.

God is at work in all nations in ways many people do not even see. God was revealing himself to the Incas in ancient history, and is still revealing himself today as he prepares people to receive the gospel when missionaries come to tell the story of Jesus Christ. When Roger Winans sold Bibles to people in small Peruvian villages, God was working in the lives of people, even calling them to be pastors and church leaders. When God was laying it on the hearts of Peruvian Nazarene leaders in the twenty-first century to reach people for Christ in the unreached places in the south, God was also working in the hearts and lives of North Americans to go and be a part of the expansion of God’s kingdom there. God will continue to work, even in the darkest places of the world to bring glory to his name.



Works Cited

"CIA - The World Factbook -- Peru." Welcome to the CIA Web Site Central Intelligence Agency. Web. Nov. 2009. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/geos/pe.html>.

"Joshua Project - Ethnic People Groups of Peru." Joshua Project - Unreached Peoples of the World. Web. Nov. 2009. <http://www.joshuaproject.net/countries.php?rog3=PE>.

Morgan, Lela. Venture of the Heart: Nazarene Missions in Peru. Kansas City, MO: Nazarene House, 2000. Print.

Pottenger, Gina. "Extreme Peru deploying ambitious four-year project." Engage Magazine. 27 May 2009. Web. Nov. 2009. <http://www.engagemagazine.com/Magazine-Content/Articles/May-2009/Extreme-Peru-deploying-ambitious-four-year-project.aspx>.

Pottenger, Gina. "PerĂº Extrema: Segundo Rimarachin." Engage Magazine. 26 May 2009. Web. Nov. 2009. <http://www.engagemagazine.com/Magazine-Content/Articles/May-2009/Peru-Extrema--Segundo-Rimarachin.aspx>.

Richardson, Don. Eternity in Their Hearts. New York: Regal Books, 2006. Print.

Schwaller, John F. "Missions and Missionaries: Spanish America: Information from Answers.com." Answers.com: Wiki Q&A combined with free online dictionary, thesaurus, and encyclopedias. Web. Nov. 2009. <http://www.answers.com/topic/spanish-america>.

Winans, Roger. Gospel Over the Andes. Kansas City, MO: Beacon Hill, 1955. Print.


All You Need Is Love

The following is a sermon I preached last year, and I really need these reminders for myself again...

I have a confession to make. I am a dirty, rotten sinner. I am a failure, I mess-up, I make mistakes; I am not talented, or smart, or funny, or charming. I’m a loser, and a sinner. And for some reason, as a Christian, I, and I suspect many of you, have this need to wear a mask and pretend to be perfect and flawless, and charming and wonderful, and pretend to not be a sinner. When we get in community, sure we love each other, but we have a really hard time being genuine. And that is the exact opposite of how it should be, which is why I want to start off by telling you all that I am a sinner.

If things were the way they should be, I would get a confession booth up here, and invite each one of you in, and I would confess to you that I am a sinner, and I would apologize for all the times that I pretended to be perfect, and all the times I was filled with pride, and all the times I withheld grace, and all the times I didn’t reach out in love, and all the times I unintentionally hurt someone, and for all the times I was apathetic. This confession idea was played out on a college campus by the Christian author Donald Miller and some of his friends, and it started a revival on one of the US campuses most known for partying. And that can be the kind of almost miraculous thing that can happen when Christian people love in a radical way, and remember that church is not for the perfect, righteous, healthy people, but rather for the sinners, and the sick and the broken.

So far, this probably doesn’t sound like your usual sermon, and I think I have the luxury of stepping on toes tonight because I get to go back to school in a week. But what I want you to do tonight is just think, and listen to what God might be saying to you tonight. Because that’s what God has been making me do lately—think. And think a lot. Not just because I have college classes to think about, but because God has been revolutionizing my thinking. And I’ve been challenged to look at the way the Christian church was meant to be.

I’ll tell you how that came about: it started with a paper in my Academic Writing class about social justice, which led me to ask some questions. Then I started reading a book that made me say wow over and over again. I then did a study of the book of Acts, which made me look at what the church was actually supposed to look like. Then I did a huge research paper about what Christians should be doing in today’s world for justice for all people. And I think it’s safe to say that God blew my mind with the new things I was thinking.

First of all, Christianity, or what we know as Christianity now, did not begin as a new alternative religion. The early disciples weren’t called Christians; they were “Followers of the Way.” The Way is the alternative lifestyle that Christ proclaimed. I don’t know if you know this, but Jesus was a pretty big rebel. A lot of his sermons have the phrase, “You have heard it said…” fill in the blank, “but I tell you…” He came to tell them that their practice of religion wasn’t actually correct, and that he offered another way. A Way that pledged allegiance to the Kingdom of God over any earthly kingdom; a Way that offered grace over judgment; a Way that didn’t need special organizations to take care of disadvantaged people because it required its followers to take care of one another; and a Way that’s only law was love, mandating the love of God and the love of all other people.

So that is the Christianity that existed at the inception of the church. But look what we have now: a community where people don’t feel free to admit sin and failure, and feel like they have to be perfect to walk through the doors. And that is only one problem.

So far, I guess this has been a downer. But I want to offer something that isn’t all that new, innovative, or insightful, but I truly believe it to be the answer. So far this year, I have only made one resolution, and it is this: to love people recklessly. We need love. Radical love! Gracious love! Patient love! Perfect love! The kind of love that could get you persecuted and nailed to a tree! The kind of love that sets the captives free, feeds the hungry, cares for orphans and widows, reaches out to the hurting and lost, broken, scared, and confused; the kind of love that compels us to reach out to the margins to show the great grace of Jesus Christ.

Mother Teresa had radical love for people. She loved others so much that her feet were deformed. While working with lepers in Calcutta, the volunteers received only enough donated shoes for each of them to have one pair. She dug through the shoes to find the worst pair, and took them for herself, and after years of doing that, her feet became deformed. That is what the Golden Rule really looks like in action.

H.F. Reynolds, the founder of the Church of the Nazarene said, “We are debtors to every man to give the Gospel in the same measure we have received it.” I believe that to be 100% true. Because of the great love and amazing grace of our Heavenly Father, we are so greatly indebted to his sacrifice that we must share the Gospel in as great a way as we have received it. And we must give away love so recklessly that it cannot be ignored.

Now let’s open our Bibles to 1 John chapter 3, verses 11 through 24.

Maybe the Beatles said “All you need is love” but it looks like the Apostle John said it first. John commands us to love one another. In verse 16, he tells us that we know what love is because Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. He also uses some pretty strong language when he talks about love, and be aware that this is not romantic love at all. He says that, ”Anyone who does not love remains in death.” Because we love, we have passed over from death to life! That’s good news, amen?

John also says in verse 17, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has no pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?” Did you catch that? If we really have the love of God in us, we will love our brothers and sisters so much that we will take care of them when they are in need. This would have been a good verse to include in my research paper on social justice and Christianity. You see, I believe that it is our responsibility as Followers of Christ to take care of people who are in need. Jesus’ ministry was not to the prominent or righteous people but to the people who had no status: the ignored, the oppressed, and the poor. He healed the disabled beggars, he called for equality, and he cared about children. When he spoke, he spoke to the “nobodies” and the “somebodies” about justice. Something I found interesting was that one of the Beatitudes we are familiar with can be translated differently from the usual verse we hear. Matthew 5:6 could also say, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice, for they will be filled.” You see, God has placed a hunger in me not just to be more like him, but also for justice for his people, and I think that is something that all Christians are called to.

I’ve been talking about love, but the author of an article I read has a different take on all this love/justice business. Vincent Genovesi said, “Unless Christians first walk the path of justice, however, any talk of love is idle chatter. If love helps people to thrive, justice allows them first to survive. Justice is the bare minimum of love. It guarantees that people have what they deserve…simply because they are human beings.”

We need to love recklessly, the kind of reckless love that allows us to give sacrificially, like Mother Theresa, to people who have needs that are within our means to meet. Because, “If anyone has material possessions and sees his brother in need but has not pity on him, how can the love of God be in him?”

John also challenges us in verse 18, “Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with action and in truth.” I started out a sermon awhile ago talking about the song “Don’t Get Comfortable.” As Christians in the world today, it is so easy for us to get comfortable. We sit in our cozy little pews each Sunday, listen to the sermon, sing the songs, and our faith probably drives a lot of our decisions during the week, but does it challenge us to be reckless? We have to act out our love. Talking about it isn’t good enough. Preaching about it isn’t good enough. Unless we actually love in a way that cannot be ignored, that cannot be rationalized away, that cannot be of human origin, all the church talk is idle, and we are too comfortable.

Comfortable Christianity, just for the record, is not what Christ intended for Followers of the Way. The Way was actually an alternative lifestyle, not one that looked surprisingly like the lifestyles of people who do not claim Christ. The Way requires action. The early church, as you can read about in Acts, actually lived all together. They sold all their possessions and gave to the poor. They met their own needs, and also the needs of others. They weren’t comfortable—they were persecuted. They preached the Gospel to anyone and everyone who would listen. They put themselves out there, and they sacrificed. And look what happened. It started a movement that grew into one of the largest religions in the world, even 2000 years later.

One of the very first sermons I ever preached was titled “Religion versus Christianity.” One of my main points was that religion is a belief system, and therefore affects your mind, what you think, value, and believe. But Christianity is a way of life. So it affects how we live, how we think, how we act, our attitudes, the way we spend our time and money, every aspect of our lifestyles. We shouldn’t have to pretend to be perfect to feel worthy of the church. We shouldn’t be okay with ignoring the needs of people around us. Our faith, this faith we call Christianity, should be an alternative lifestyle, and a different way of living. And it actually has an easy starting point: love. When we embrace love as a radical, transformational way, and maybe give love in the same measure we have received it, our lives couldn’t help but be different.

So many Christians find a need to defend their religion. Many often find it hard to explain their beliefs or prove that what they believe is right. But there should be no need to offer proof for Christianity with our words; the proof should be in our actions. We show that we are Christ’s followers in how we love one another. If you’d like, open your Bible to John 13. In verses 34 and 35, Jesus tells his disciples, "A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another." And our Savior is saying the same thing to us right now: as Christ’s followers, we have to love one another and everyone else because of the amazing love Christ has given to us, and the world will know that we are Christians by our love. That should put a load of pressure on us. Think about the verse in 1 Corinthians: “We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us.” Every minute of everyday, as Christians, we are Christ’s ambassadors. So when people look at us, they should see people who want to overwhelm the world with love. That is how Christ will make his appeal.

Since we are talking about love tonight, it seems appropriate to bring up the chapter in the Bible called the Love Chapter. 1 Corinthians 13 is a Scripture passage that we associate with weddings, but when Paul wrote those words, he had no intention of describing romantic love. What he wrote about was the powerful love of Christ lived out by Christian brothers and sisters.

“If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and surrender my body to the flames, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when perfection comes, the imperfect disappears. When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put childish ways behind me. Now we see but a poor reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

That is the kind of love that we are supposed to give lavishly to our neighbor. If the world, and by the world I mean people who are not Christians, saw Christians love with that kind of holy love instead of hypocritical, judgmental, exclusionary people, the world might actually want to join us and have that kind of love too.

I want to also emphasize that this love is not just for the world, but also for our brothers and sisters in Christ. Colossians 3:12-14 says Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Why would anyone want to be a part of a church that is always beating each other up? Instead, we need to have grace with one another, and share our reckless love with even the other Christians around us. Once again, love is the greatest virtue. Love conquers all; we’ve heard that said, right? Love is above everything else; it binds us together in unity. Love can make a huge difference in the world, but it will start within the church.

I don’t know how many young people there are in the service tonight, but I want to direct something to you. I know I’m young, and I really don’t have any wisdom to offer at all, but I think there is exciting news for us. I really, sincerely believe that it will be our generation that changes the church. I hear all the time young people talking about how frustrated they are with the church, and they usually have really good reason to be. They have a friend, or parent, or other loved one who was hurt by someone in the church, or scorned by the church for some mistake made, or belittled by someone in the church, or left alone when the church should have been a place of welcome and comfort. Maybe you even have those stories. Or I hear young people complain about the apathy that is so prevalent in the church, and they can’t stand it and they want action from God’s people. Or they feel like the church is so caught up in rules and tradition that they forget to love people and have relationships first with God and then with others.

But here is the good news once again: we can be the generation that welcomes everyone, the generation that turns no one away, the generation that loves and takes care of people, the generation of action, the generation that will not allow apathy to have even a foot in the door, the generation that will have rules take the background as love and grace rule all. As Ronald Sider said, “Christians should be the vanguard. The world will change if Christians obey the One we worship” Even though it wasn’t a Christian who said it, we have to be the change we want to see in the world, and while this extends to believers old and young alike, I think it will be our generation that becomes the vanguard and that brings the change. So let that encourage you. Even though it may feel like it sometimes, we are not alone in our walk, and we don’t have to be apathetic. When we choose to care and love, who knows, it could start a revolution. Don’t just take my word for it. Shane Claiborne, a noted Christian author, said in his book, The Irresistible Revolution,

“I believe we are amid a great awakening in the slumbering body of Christ. I once heard somebody call us the Lazarus generation, for we are a generation rising up from the apathetic deadness of this world, a church that is awakening from her slumber. There’s a beautiful verse in which Jesus scolds his listeners for having grown numb and cold, for having forgotten how to laugh and cry and feel. He says ‘To what can I compare this generation? They are like children sitting in the marketplaces and calling out to others “We played the pipe for you, and you did not dance; we played a dirge for you, and you did not mourn.”’ (Matthew 11:16-17) A new day is dawning. We are playing the flute and folks from Wall Street to the ghetto are beginning to dance.”

Christ called us to be like a city on a hill, shining for our light to be seen. But let’s not just be another church of smiling, plastic people under a shiny, plastic steeple. Let’s allow ourselves to be the Church of the sinners, the dropouts, the losers, the uncool, the broken, the failures, and the fools. When we are humbled, we can love people recklessly, because there is no room for pride to hold us back from loving others in a remarkable, changing, miraculous kind of way.


The Kingdom of God on Earth


How are you impacting the kingdom of God right now?

I want that question to be the one that defines each of my days on this earth. Now don’t get me wrong, I am not perfect, and I mess up and lose sight of my role in the kingdom of God. But if I believe that God is the creator on the universe, then I believe that he created humankind. And the reason he created all of creation, including humankind, was for His glory. Our purpose on the earth is to bring God glory!

Let’s fast-forward. During Jesus’ ministry on earth, he taught the people how to pray. Part of this prayer that we now call the Lord’s Prayer is to say, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). Christ taught us to ask the Father to make God’s kingdom come ON EARTH. And we are instruments of enacting the kingdom of God on earth.

So that brings me back to my original question: How are you impacting the kingdom of God to bring glory to God right now?

Once again, I want my existence to be defined by that question. But I want your existence to be defined by that too. Because that is what God desires for all of His creation.

That is why I am writing this. Because I know of an opportunity for you to be part of an extreme expansion of God’s kingdom. By now some of you know what I am talking about, because you know I am going to Peru with Extreme Nazarene, and most likely if you have talked to me about it for five minutes, I have said, “You should come to Peru!” But, I am kind of serious. There are opportunities for both long-term and short-term volunteers.

I have been thinking a lot lately about some things I read in the book Crazy Love by Francis Chan. But one of the things that I can’t seem to get out of my head is a story he told about his days in Bible college. One of his professors asked him, “What are you doing right now that requires faith?” This question got him thinking about how his life would be different if he did not believe in God. And he came to the conclusion that he was not doing anything with his life that required absolute faith in God, that God would have to come through in some situation, otherwise he would be in serious trouble.

I want to ask the same question of myself, and of you. What are you doing right now that requires faith in God? I am not asking you to sell everything you have to give to the poor, (although Jesus did tell someone to do that) but I do want to challenge you to live like you believe in God, and believe that you have a part to play in the kingdom of God. Please consider stepping out in faith, stretching yourself, and doing whatever God asks of you.

If you are interested in how you can get involved in an extreme expansion of God’s kingdom through Extreme Nazarene Ministries, please ask me! But really, just seek the ways that you can live your life in total reliance on God. May God’s kingdom come ON EARTH as it is in heaven.

http://www.extremenazarene.org


Recap of the Peru Project


I borrowed this from a blog from Mike and Sydney Drinkwater, two long term missionaries with Extreme Nazarene currently serving in Arequipa, Peru. I thought it would help me share what Extreme is all about, and what I get to be a part of!


There are three main components to Extreme Peru:

1. 40/40s

2. Short-term volunteers

3. Long-term volunteers


40/40 Component:

Method: seeking, training, and deploying 40 non-Peruvian and 40 Peruvian missionaries. These 80 young people are sent to share the good news of Jesus Christ through planting community-centric churches using evangelism, compassion projects and systematic, personalized discipleship. The 40 non-Peruvians first go through intense language training for 3 months. Following, they meet up with their partners - they are paired off (1 foreigner, 1 Peruvian) – and go through an intense 6 months of job training to prepare them biblically, culturally, and spiritually for the work ahead of them.

Goal: To plant 120 self-supporting churches in southern Peru within 3 years.

Each missionary is carefully selected as they are the backbone of Extreme Peru. Each pair will be entering very secluded Amazon River villages, small mountain towns, or dense urban areas of Peru armed with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. The ultimate purpose of 40/40 is to carry the light of Christ into the dark places of Peru so that God can transform individuals, communities, and entire cultures.

Update: The first of three cohorts has 8 missionaries – 4 from the USA, 4 from Peru. They are finishing their job training in the city of Iquitos TODAY and will be moving to their service city, Puerto Maldonado, in just a few short days.

Short-Term Component:

Method: seeking and deploying short-term volunteers for up to 2 weeks for preparation for and support of the 40/40s. These volunteers participate in many outreaches in the communities – all places where future 40/40s will be working – and also construction projects to build facilities for the 40/40s and their support families to live.

This part of the Peru Project is quite dynamic. There have been 3 projects completed already and the 4th one is currently underway. Each project takes from 20 to 400 people. People of all ages come. Impact projects consist of women prison’s outreach, plaza evangelism, puppet shows, Magdalena films, Jesus films, Men’s drug rehab center outreach, children’s hospital volunteer work to spending time sharing Christ’s Love with the elderly living in assisted living facilities.

Update: The 4th and current project is in Puerto Maldonado, where approximately 30 volunteers are sweating a lot in the jungle! Several of them have participated in outreach activities each day, resulting in several decisions for Christ. The rest of them are wrapping up the work on the building which will house the first 40/40 Cohort and their support family, the Smiths, who all move in in a few days! This is a huge moment in the Peru Project as the backbone of why we’re all here is finally beginning. The 40/40s will begin the work for which they were called to Peru and, God willing, 12 community-centric churches will be planted in the town and surrounding area of Puerto Maldonado.

But don’t forget! The short-term volunteers have already had a giant impact on their respective communities. Here are the Decisions for Christ from the first 3 projects:


Arequipa 0: 175

Arequipa 1: 316

Puerto Maldonado 1: 40 Praise the Lord!!



Long-Term Component

As you might be able to tell from above, this type of work takes LOTS of planning and support.

· There are at least 14 people on the ground in the U.S. – most of which work full-time mobilizing and recruiting short-term, long-term, and 40/40 volunteer missionaries for the work in Peru.

· There are now 32 40/40s on the ground with the last 48 being deployed in February 2010.

· There are about 30 other long-term volunteers on the ground, each with a very specific position.

One could definitely say that this is not a traditional missions organization; however, each and every position is so important to support the 40/40s in their work.

Other Notes:

· Contrary to common understanding, this method is quite different than the Work&Witness model. We are not W&W missionaries nor organization. W&W has had great effect in the world, but we are trying something different!

· Extreme is an incredibly quickly-growing organization and sometimes it is impossible to capture all news/events/updates that go on all over the world. Please also regularly click on the link to the right to view updates on the Extreme website.


I am a 40/40 missionary, headed for Peru as part of Cohort 3 in February. I love hearing the ways God is transforming lives! I can’t wait to get there, but keep me in your prayers!


Testimony

I recently spoke at a church, and this is what I shared...


I was about seven years old when I first felt God calling me to be a missionary. I don’t remember a booming voice or some amazing epiphany, but I do remember knowing that God wanted me to be a missionary, and contentment in that knowing.

I went on my first mission trip when I was 14 to the Dominican Republic, and through that experience, God confirmed my call to missions. Since then, I have been to Mexico twice and Guatemala twice. As I look back, I know that God used each of those experiences to prepare me a little more.

Now, though, I am a student at Southern Nazarene University studying missions. And in February, I will be going to Peru for two years as a volunteer missionary. If you know me, you know that I am a planner. I like to have things planned and organized. I like to know by Wednesday what I am going to be doing for the weekend. But the thing about this amazing God that we serve is that He likes to change the plans. People say that if you want to make God laugh, you should tell Him your plans. That has definitely been true in my life. The fact that I go to school in Oklahoma is surprising, since I planned my whole life on going to Mount Vernon. The fact that I took Spanish in high school was a surprise, since I loved speaking German. The fact that I am going to Peru before I finish my degree is definitely surprising, because I am pretty much the last person you would picture as a college drop out. But each time God has called, I first asked Him if He knew what He was doing, and then I responded by doing what He asked.

Let me tell you about my call to Peru. I started at SNU last year, and I got exposed to all kinds of missionaries and missions organizations. I loved hearing the stories that each of them would tell. And I got excited about the stories that I would have to tell someday. One of those organizations was Extreme Nazarene Ministries. A representative came to my class and told us about Extreme, and the amazing dreams they have for Peru. I was really impressed, and so I added Extreme to my plan, as something I would do after I graduated. But they came back in the Spring semester, and I watched a few videos about their ministry, and I knew that I was supposed to go, even if it meant I would have to change my plans. I talked to the Extreme staff that whole day, asking them questions and finding out all that I could. I prayed and fasted about it, because I knew if I were going to go to Peru, it would be in 2009 or 2010, and that would mean changing my plan.

I went to a Christian concert with my youth group the following night. It was held at this arena in Oklahoma City, and the place was packed—at least 12,000 people there. One of the bands was on stage, and they were presenting the Gospel message. And these words started to echo in my mind: “No one has the right to hear the Gospel twice until everyone has heard it once.” Here I was with 12,000 people at a Christian concert in the Bible belt, and I knew that everyone in there had heard the Gospel many times. But in the world, there are 2 billion people who have never heard the message of Jesus Christ. That’s 30% of the world’s population. In Peru, though, 70% of the population has never heard about Jesus. It was at that moment that I knew I had to go. I knew that I had to be a part of Extreme’s mission to expand the kingdom of God by planting 120 churches.

Here’s the thing about this call on my life though: even though I know that I am called to go, I feel vastly unworthy. I wonder, “What are you thinking God? I am twenty years old. I have preached a dozen or so times. I am not even done with school. And you want me to plant three churches in Peru? What are you thinking God? Shouldn’t you wait to use me until after I have it all together and have it all figured out? God, I am unworthy of this call.” But here’s the thing I have learned. I am unworthy. I don’t have it all together. But God uses the weak to lead the strong. God uses the outcasts of society to share His love. God doesn’t always call the equipped, but He always equips the called. So God can use little me to show people His love. God can use me to build relationships with people and share the Gospel with them. God will equip me for this ministry.

If you asked me why I feel God calls people to go into the world and preach His Good News, I would tell you that it is because of transformed lives. We have to go, because God is still a God who changes lives. Listen to this story about how God used Extreme Nazarene…

The green bulb gave off an eerie glow. Vivian’s face seemed hollow, yet aggressive as she leaned forward over the small table. With her hair pulled back, she was ready for a fight. There was nothing these two guys could dish out that she couldn’t handle. Pastor Freddy and Brian Tibbs sat opposite her and the interview began. Pastor Freddy opened. Every question received a brutal response. “Do you like this?” She was defensive. “Do you think I enjoy this? People constantly telling me where to go and what to do? But here is the deal, I make $2,000 a month; that is good money.”

She was right, it is good money. The average income in Puerto Maldonado, Peru, is $100 a month. Freddy continued, “Vivian, I am a pastor and I want to know if you believe in God?”

“Yes, I believe in God, but He is not going to come down and pay my debt or feed my son. No, I have to take care of me and my own.”

Brain said, “Vivian you have amazing leadership skills, gifts and talents that God wants to use to spread light instead of darkness.”

She took a deep breath, pulled the tie out of her hair letting if fall on her shoulders and she leaned back in her chair. Pastor Freddy, being an amazing man of discipleship, knew … and he asked, “Vivian can I pray for you?”

“Yes.”

Pastor Freddy prayed that God would plant a seed in Vivian’s heart and when he was finished she said, “I have accepted Jesus Christ. I no longer want to live this way, but live as light for God.”


Vivian turned away from her life, and has joined Extreme Nazarene in planting churches and spreading light. And we have to go out into the world for the Vivian’s that are all around us, who desperately need the hope that Jesus Christ has to offer them. I am going to Peru because of the stories of transformed lives, like this one.


Live Because of God

The desire to serve God has been instilled in me since I was just a kid. Both of my grandpas were pastors, and my parents were both really active lay people in the church. Not only did we have to go to church every time the doors were open, but we also had to teach Sunday school, or work in any other ministry we were qualified for. I just knew that we had to do things for God.

I don’t think I’ve ever really evaluated that idea until recently. I mean, I just knew that I wanted to set the world on fire for God. That I was going to do so much for God.

But here is what makes me question that: God doesn’t need me. God can get along just fine without Cailyn Dawn Stevens. God has everything under control. “God is not served by men’s hands as if He needed anything.
But He gives to us life, breath, and all things.” (Acts 17:25)

Now wait a second. Sure God needs me. Look at how great I am. I mean, I study a lot, and then I know all sorts of things in my big brain so that I can tell people stuff. God needs my big brain so that I can tell other people who have big brains all about Him and then they will believe and then they will serve God too. And I am just so nice. I mean really. I go out of my way to talk to people, like janitors and people in the fast food place taking my order, so that I can be really nice to them and show them God’s love. God needs me to do that, because I am just so nice and awesome.

Hmm, Cailyn, I think you’re missing the point. Because the way you just said that, well, you have an awful lot of pride. You think a lot of yourself, and you think that you are doing great things for God, when really, you are doing great things for Cailyn.

God doesn’t need me? God doesn’t need me. God can accomplish anything He wants to on His own, because he has all the might, all the power, all the authority. He has got it all. What does He need me for?

Here is where the switch must go off in our brains. I don’t do things for God. I do things because of God, because of the amazing love that has been given to me, and the transformation that God has done in my life. My only response to this great, holy God, who has galaxies worshiping him, is to realize, I am vastly unworthy, but I worship my God. I must worship. The moon and the stars are declaring the glory of God, and I must join them. I must worship with my life. I must worship with my words. I must worship with my deeds. I don’t serve God because He needs me to; I serve God because that is my response to who He is and to what He has done in my life.

Live because of God.


Believe That You Are Loved

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." Romans 5:8


God demonstrateS--present tense--his love for us. God has already proven his love to you, in that He gave His own son for you. . God doesn't need to prove his love to you, because he already has. So stop looking at what you've done and how God must not be able to love you, look at what he has done for you, and how much he must love you because of it. Don't look at the scars on your body, look at the scars on His body. His wounds already show how much he loves you. You have been given more worth than you could ever know because God loves you so much that He gave up His son for you.


"God is not loving toward me, because I have deserved it.

He is loving to me, because Christ deserved it for me.

He isn’t good to any of us, because we’re really good at

saying our prayers and really good at loving other people.

He isn’t faithful to us, because we’re faithful to Him.

He loves us, because that’s who He is.

He is faithful to us, because He cannot deny Himself.

That’s who He is.

That’s what He’s about."


http://tenthavenuenorth.com/journal/show/mike


I don’t have it all together. But I am dearly loved. I don't have to work to get better for God, because Christ was better for me. His love is over anything I could ever accomplish, because he lived a perfect life. But it is also underneath the depths of my failures and insecurities, because he went to the cross, and took all of my sins upon himself.


So his love surrounds us. And it is enough.


Believe that you are loved.